The study of history, according to A&M Consolidated High School AP U.S. history teacher Chad Cryer, is more than a quest for answers. The joy and the challenge of the subject, he said, comes from finding the right questions.
“I think we try to present an objective history of things,” Cryer said. “I don’t think the most important thing a history teacher does is to give the answers, but to do two things: Ask the questions and then encourage students to ask questions as well.”
The questions and the answers matter, Cryer said, not just for students’ success on the end-of-school-year AP exam, but also for their lives as members of much larger nation and world communities.
“We are trying to put a picture together of who we are and where we stand, as well as what we stand for,” he said of the study of history. “The path that a nation takes, and the path that an individual takes, is based in part on the path that was paved before them.”
In each of Cryer’s five classes, Cryer joins his students on multiple journeys — not just over the course of America’s story, but also on quests to explore answers to specific questions. For example, Cryer asks: Why are James Meredith (who endured a riot in September 1962 to become the first black student to enroll at Ole Miss) and longtime civil rights activist Bayard Rustin (who organized the August 1963 March on Washington) not ubiquitously known historical figures like Rosa Parks or Martin Luther King, Jr.?
One of Cryer’s students this year, junior Emily Downie, said Friday that Cryer’s knowledge base and teaching style helps his students prepare for the AP exam while also going beyond it. She said she has thought about becoming a teacher and that she and Cryer have had “insightful” conversations about the profession.
“When we were learning about the civil rights movement, he did a really good job of having discussions in class on what we think about where we are as nation right now as far as racism goes,” Downie said. “He brought the discussion not only to the foundation of moving past racism, but also how it’s relevant to the conversation now. We’re able to have a deeper analysis and had a really good class discussion.
“It’s the history of our nation, and it’s obviously really important to have an accurate understanding of it.”
Cryer is nearing the end of his first year at A&M Consolidated. He previously spent 14 years teaching at Bryan High School. Cryer repeatedly spoke highly of his time at Bryan High and lauded his colleagues, administrators and students there.
Cryer, a 1999 Rockdale High School graduate, said he came to teaching through coaching baseball, his lifelong love.
“It’s an indirect route,” Cryer said Friday morning. “My identity in high school was a baseball player. That’s what I did, it was my objective, and if you go back and look, any time we were given a writing assignment and we got to choose, it was something about baseball. It was my life.”
Cryer said he knew after graduating that he wanted to coach baseball. He went to Temple College and then graduated from Sam Houston State. It was early in his coaching career, in the mid-2000s, that he experienced a shift in perspective.
“The first year I was helping out with the Bryan High School baseball team, I fell in love with the classroom,” Cryer said. “All the credit to those who can coach and teach at the same time, but I wasn’t one of them. I needed to do one or the other.”
Cryer, who now coaches the Hustle3 Bucks, a local 11-and-under select baseball team, said he felt like he could share similar lessons via the classroom as those encountered on the baseball diamond.
“You teach leadership, hustle, hard work, cooperation and to be humble during good times and lift your head up during bad times,” he said. “It was everything I loved about baseball — and baseball didn’t have to be the means to the end. History became the means to the end.”
Cryer said that his most important role in life is that of father. He and his wife, Nikki, married at the turn of the century and now have three children: Garrett, 15; Ethan, who’s in fifth grade; and Avery, who is finishing kindergarten.
“Without family, I am nothing,” Cryer said. “It is the driving factor behind every decision.”
Cryer praised the students he’s taught at Consol and at Bryan and said his classes’ passion for history varies at the beginning.
“We have some students coming in and saying, ‘Look, it’s an AP class and the primary objective is that I need the credit for college,’ ” Cryer said. “But to me, that’s not a disservice to the history classroom. To me, that says, ‘OK, you took the bait. Now we’re gonna make you like it.’
“We also have students who come in loving history, and this is an opportunity to do more than breeze over it and look at some events that happened, but also ask the ‘why’ and ‘how’ questions. That becomes the challenge for them.”
Bobbi Rodriguez, a colleague of Cryer’s at A&M Consolidated who teaches AP government and AP economics from across the hall, praised his passion Cryer’s teaching and said the school is lucky to have him.
“He can really engage with students by bringing them into this world that he creates,” Rodriguez said of his approach to teaching history. “These people aren’t just characters, but they’re real people, and they have complex backgrounds that he isn’t afraid to explore.
“By being able to see all of the different sides and produce equally engaging narratives from multiple perspectives, I think, allows every student to both see themselves in history and feel challenged by history.”